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Karim Rashid 

Design superstar, 'poet of plastic,' headed to Atlanta

You may not know the name Karim Rashid, the half-Egyptian, half-English design superstar who's coming to Atlanta next week. But you've undoubtedly seen the "poet of plastic's" work. His colorful, bulbous industrial designs for Umbra, Dirt Devil and Issey Miyake are in the permanent collections of 14 museums and can be seen on display in any Target store, where his designs for Method home-cleaning products bring an unexpected elegance to the humdrum reality of floor scrubbing and gunk removal.

Your forms are very distinctive for their biomorphic curviness and bright pastel colors -- how did you develop this signature look?

Sensual minimalism. It was my first word I coined when I was asked to define my work 10 years ago. It was an answer to the sterility of minimalism. Since then, my philosophies and theories range from pleasurtroniks to the blobject to globjectism, to globalism, to essensualism to designokrasy, kasualism, technorganiks, infostethiks, digitalia and orgonomiks. All objects and spaces have semantic language. They speak to us. Certain forms, lines, colors, textures, functions, all touch and communicate to our senses and our daily experiences. I believe that it is important to not necessarily over-embellish; to keep a certain truth to a product or space, but I also believe that objects and spaces need to touch our sensual side, touch our emotions, they need to elevate a certain experience, and they need to be human.

Can you give us a list of 10 things that have inspired you lately?

Inspiration is accumulative. Everything can be inspiring. It is how you look at the world. I am inspired by my childhood, my education, by all my teachers I have ever had, by every project I have worked on, by every city I have traveled to, by every book I have read, by every art show I have seen, by every song I have heard, by every smell, every taste, sight, sound and feeling.

When are you the happiest?

I like the feeling that I am changing people's ideas about objects, the things around them, products and space. I am happiest when I walk into almost any store in the U.S.A. and see a product I have designed, whether it is a shampoo bottle, dish soap, cosmetics, lamps, chairs, carpets, clothes, eyeglasses, watches, televisions, wallpaper, etc. because the real judge of who likes your work is the consumer and if it is on a shelf then it is selling, and if it is selling, then people are experiencing, enjoying and appreciating it and this is how I am changing the world.

What is the most beautifully designed object in the world?

Women.

If you could redesign something you think is horribly designed, what would it be?

An airplane. I spend 200 days a year traveling and everything needs to be redesigned from the seats to the awkward bathrooms to the silverware to the ...

What's the very first thing you ever designed?

I realized my life's mission at the age of 5 in London. I went sketching with my father in England drawing churches. He taught me to see -- he taught me perspective at that age -- he taught me that I could design anything and touch all aspects of our physical landscape. I remember drawing a cathedral facade and deciding I did not like the shape of the windows so I redesigned them. I also remember winning a drawing competition for children -- I drew luggage (my own ideas of how to travel) ... I was obsessed with drawing eyeglasses, shoes, radios, luggage, throughout my childhood.

You've said, "We do not need 90 percent of what we possess." How can we begin to live more aesthetically enlightened lives?

1. Have less but better furniture. Try to substitute two or three pieces with one.

2. Addition by subtraction. This is one of my pet theories and it's really very simple. You get rid of things you don't want and your life becomes fuller. Less becomes more; the things you do keep become more valuable.

3. Do not buy useless, kitschy souvenirs. Do you really need a sombrero from Puerto Vallarta? If you bring something into your home, make sure it has meaning.

4. Use color to express yourself. Don't be afraid of that bright orange chair. Paint your wall lime-green. Be brave when it comes to carpets, countertops and tables. Color is beautiful and it's all about self-expression. Be yourself.

5. Make do with less. And make sure you really want what you're buying. I'm not anti-consumption per se but I think it's essential to consume with awareness. Buy only what you need.

What's the best way for people to educate themselves about design?

Awareness -- watch design programs on television, read about great designers, but reading design magazines is probably the most seamless and concise way to learn about design. Design is about a contemporary world. People need to open their eyes of contemporary design and not revert to the past. Don't consider what you think you like but expand into what you could like. Explore new possibilities and figure out what can fit in your life.

Karim Rashid will speak at 7 p.m., Wed., Jan. 24, at the Savannah College of Art and Design, 1600 Peachtree St., Atlanta.

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